Feature

‘Disastrous’ wool sector attracts PAC

Lerato Matheka

The Chairperson of the Lesotho Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Selibe Mochoboroane has vowed to investigate purported corruption afflicting the sale of Wool and Mohair, and is said to have been going on   for the past 40 years.

When speaking with Newsday this week Mochoboroane that noted he was not aware that the government had not been collecting Deeping Levy from the wool and mohair sales, but indicated that as soon as the parliament’s ad hoc committee on wool and mohair complete its investigations, his committee would begin investigations.

He noted that PAC would take to task the Agriculture Ministry.

“Regardless of how much BKB is favoured by some  farmers for paying us lucrative monies for our wool, if indeed there are acts of corruption as per the government, the PAC is going to lodge investigations,” he said.

“On behalf of farmers, we will not entertain corruption and perhaps this prevailing conflict between the farmers and government is going to help uproot fowl play in the industry.”

“If the collected Deeping Levy recorded on farmers sales accounts, and has not been submitted to the relevant ministry it is truly unfortunate. And again, it is very unfortunate that the ministry entrusted with colleting revenue for the government has failed to do so. If this is an issue, then corruption is between the ministry of agriculture and BKB and the two will need to be held accountable,” he said noting that at present he personally has no such evidence.

“Since the parliament agreed to have an ad hoc committee which will investigate issues of wool and mohair before and after the regulations, I trust that the PAC will have a lot to do after the committee has compiled its report of findings, but I assure you that we will go after those involved in corruption,” he said.

He added, “I am not aware that the government has witnessed corruption with the sale of wool through BKB and I will only confidently speak once my investigations have informed me. I will interrogate the ministry of agriculture and they had better have a very solid and sensible reason of how they allowed the money to have been eroded under their watch”

“I know that the ministry has been and is aware that farmers pay Deeping Levy. If this is true then they have been extremely careless. I am not going to entertain corruption, regardless of who was at its’ centre. As the chairperson of PAC I am going to decide which tusk to take up, how to investigate the matter,then act accordingly,” Mochoboroane said.

This week the ad hoc committee started its investigations and Small Business Minister Chalane Phori charged that two leaders of the Lesotho National Wool and Mohair Growers Association borrowed each, M4 million from South Africa’s BKB wool broker.

Phori indicated that the two in turn put Basotho wool as surety.

The committee is expected to continue inquires, and later on compile a report which will shed light on the auctioning and sale of wool and mohair before and after the enactment of the wool and mohair regulations.

Last Friday thousands of wool farmers petitioned the speaker of the National Assembly requesting among other things the suspension of the regulations.

The march saw the presence of many political leaders who are also wool farmers.

‘Regulations not good for the country’

Mochoboroane, leader of the Movement for Economic Change (MEC) said the Wool and Mohair regulations which precipitated farmers’ protest last Friday are not good for the country.

When speaking with Newsday about the regulations, Mochoboroane stressed that the regulations were ‘narrow’ in terms of their implementations.

“When you look at the intention and the plan to have the wool and mohair sold in the country, really the plan was very good. This plan however was never supposed to only be about selling the wool, but rather to also explore all other income generation mechanism tied to the wool and mohair industry.

“Focusing only on selling Basotho wool in the country doesn’t add any value, not to the farmers or even the country,” he criticised adding that the government could have invested on a scouringplant which he explained would have helped Lesotho with washing and testing its fibre.

“Perhaps those in power have a view that for the quantity of wool which we produce, there is a need for a bigger plant. But in my view is Lesotho needs to start small and buy a plant which is equivalent to the one used in Port Elizabeth (South Africa) to help with testing and washing our own wool and mohair before selling.

“If the intention was as broad as I have just explained, then I would have been in total support of the government’s plan.

He charged that the government failed to even consult with the farmers who produce the very products the regulations are controlling, citing the attitudes of the responsible ‘group’ of ministers which angered farmers.

“It is not advisable that when you want to bring improvement and change to people you choose to work in isolation. To my knowledge, the Minister of Small Business, Cooporatives and Marketing has no expertise of issues of wool and mohair, nor does the ministry. If indeed they wanted this plan to work and be positively welcomed, they could have engaged with farmers and shared their plan, wait for farmers to advise, then implement,” Mochoboroane said charging that the implementation were done forcefulyl.

“The very people who were spear heading the process were very arrogant and silly, and their confrontations demeaning to farmers. They didn’t have respect and were displaying controlling attitudes. It’s very unfortunate that the subcommittee was built-up by such people.”

Mochoboroane indicated that when the wool and mohair saga began him, alongside other Principal Chiefs and Members of Parliament went to BKB in Port Elizabeth to learn how the South African company operates.

“It was unfortunate that when we tried to stop the regulations in parliament, we were outvoted. We knew that the implementation plan by the government was not in sync with the current needs, and was not going to serve any economic boost to the country. Despite that, if this government had the best interests of the farmers at heart, and I am speaking from a farmer’s perspective, it would have to prioritise early payments of the wool to farmers, and living up to their promises that, selling wool to Maseru Downing was going to yield more profits when compared to BKB. That alone could have been a success element,” the leader said.

He charged that the anger which was displayed through a protest last Friday was brewed by the fact that farmers also feel cheated by a Chinese national.

“That is the crisis prevailing currently, where our wool was sold outside any viable systems. We don’t know how our wool was sold, for how much and looking at what. We don’t know how the monies we received were decided upon. Lack of systems have plunged this issue into a crisis and has brought the regulations into disrepute,” he said noting that during the last shearing season he had 64 sheep which gave him M20 000.

He noted that this year he sheared 108 and earned only M24 000.

“I know quite a number of farmers who have sheared an increased number of sheep but have received money which is not in consonant with their output, and less than what they received from BKB. That monetary variation has led to the uproar,” Mochoboroane said noting that the protest was among other things, demanding clarity as to why the money received was different from what BKB offered.

“We are at liberty to know as farmers what happened to our monies. However, the Lesotho Wool Centre is the only entity that can explain that.”

He revealed that since the introduction of the regulations, farmers have split into two factions, one of which is on the side of the Lesotho National Wool and Mohair Growers’ Association.

“There were people who didn’t know well with the association, and when the conflict between the government and the association erupted, some farmers took the opportunity to align themselves with the government, and we suspect that perhaps they were handsomely paid compared to the thousands of farmers that took to the streets last week.”

He added, “It is very sad to have factions of farmers on this issue because it has really affected the nation at large.”

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